Main image
25th February
2009
written by Tony
The Silver is actually a little more lusterous than this and has the look of brushed titanium (it is all metal) rather than the cheap plastic this photo implies

The silver is actually a little more lusterous than this and has the look of brushed titanium (it is all metal) rather than the cheap plastic this photo implies

I’ve been looking for a suitable compact digital camera for a long time, in fact, I’ve been searching for one ever since I went digital in the first place. I have been a photographer for almost a decade now, and I love to shoot. When I finally went digital it was after a lot of research and experience with the various major brands. Four years later I’m still shooting my Canon 20D and see no reason to upgrade for a long time. The biggest drawback is the size of the camera. I love the image quality but I was immediately sick of dragging the big DSLR and its lenses around with me everywhere on the off chance that I might find something interesting to photograph. So I began a campaign to find the perfect point and shoot digital compact that compromised the least on image quality. I’ll admit that early on I was seduced by the slim, curvaceous ultra compact S9 from Nikon, a purchase I heavily regret. The image quality is abysmal and the lens is next to useless. So, as the new year broke I began to search again, in earnest. What I really wanted was something that would perform well in low light and had a good lens. This proved to be a remarkably small field of competitors. A note: I've peppered this article with some shots that I think are exemplary of unusually difficult lighting situations, and I think they give a good example of how flexible the camera is overall, as opposed to any considerations of presumed artistic merit (this is basically me saying I haven't had time to take really "artsy" shots yet, though the camera is one of the most fully featured point and shoots I have ever seen and is capable of doing really anything you want it to). Also, see the end of this article for a link to what I consider to be the best review (honest and thorough) out there concerning this camera.
ONE aisle of McCay's Bookstore, our personal poison. Hand held, available light.

ONE aisle of McCay's Bookstore, our personal poison. Hand held, available light.

Enter the Panasonic Lumix line of cameras. I was immediately attracted to their large, Leica manufactured glass, something unusual in the compact digital camera industry – a camera that put optics first and foremost. Panasonic is also taking an unusual tack in that it is limiting the number of megapixels it stuffs onto the demure sensors in favor of image clarity and noise reduction. In a consumer environment where bigger is always better, this is a brave move. It’s also something I found attractive, a camera maker that was actually listening to photographers. My DSLR is “only” 8 megapixels and I have absolutely no idea why I would need more for anything I could ever conceive of doing with it. I understand that it has a bigger sensor than any standard point and shoot on the market, which makes a sizeable difference in image quality, but there are still limits. Ultimately your final image quality boils down to two things: optical quality and sensor quality.
Available light, hand held, at night. The only light sources are the ones you see here.

Available light, hand held, at night. The only light sources are the ones you see here.

Initially I was looking at the TZ sub-series of Lumix cameras by Panasonic. They had been getting favorable reviews and the one I played with in a store (the TZ5) really impressed me with its low light capabilities and ease of use. Of course this was all casual observation, I really hadn’t solidified my intent to buy anything until Steph mentioned that she was interested in learning about photography and getting into it herself. At this point I thought it would be nice if we could go out and shoot together and she could have a camera that would allow her to learn and have total creative control when she became more technically proficient. One of my first considerations was obviously the Canon G10. In the photography arena Canon is a heavy hitter and many consider their point and shoots to be the best on the market. Having owned and loved a Digital Elph back in the day, and having the 20D and a Canon strobe (480EX) the G10 was a natural first choice. Somewhere in my wanderings through various online research and review sites I came across a camera I had never ever heard of, a camera that wasn’t available locally and didn’t have a snappy name or gimmick attached to it.  Despite this, the DMC LX3 seemed to be on every list of top point and shoots and was getting very high marks across the board, but had received no real coverage in the popular press that I was aware of.
Macro! The guts of a very small USB drive, hand held, available light.

Macro! The guts of a very small USB drive, hand held, available light.

I was immediately attracted to the LX3 based on its primary feature set, since it told me everything I wanted to hear: 10 megapixels (plenty, and preferable to, say 14+, on such a small sensor), a super sharp Lecia f2.0 24mm lens (nice and wide!), a hotshoe, optical image stabilization, aperture priority, shutter priority, full manual, HD video, and the highly unusual format switch (3:2, 4:3 and 16:9 image aspect ratios, though 3:2 and 16:9 do slightly crop the sensor, it's still a cool add-on). Also, a rechargable battery with a good shooting life (I just don't buy in to cameras that use AAs). However, my main concern was image quality. I wanted to see how the camera stacked up against the Canon without actually buying either. Fortunately, there is the internet (see the link at the end of this article for my primary resource). After an exhaustive amount of research it became clear that on a comparison between overall image quality, optics, and low light performance the LX3 beat out the G10 by a reasonable margin. I’m happy to report after shooting around with the camera for a good month now, it lives up to its reputation. I’ve never seen such a wonderfully capable low light camera in such a small package before. I rarely have to use the flash unless I want to, and when I do the built-in flash does a far better job than I am used to on a small camera (one caveat: be prepared to use flash exposure compensation as it can run a little hot sometimes). The lens is beautiful and the 10 megapixel sensor is in no way limiting when it comes to resolution. There is some noise, but no more than you would expect from a compact camera and certainly not enough to interfere with image quality in any real way, especially for what I do with the camera.
Shameless plug (this is one of my projects at work). Also, hand held, available light in a warehouse (so it's those dreadfully dim murcu-halide lights 30 ft. above)

Shameless plug (this is one of my projects at work). Also, hand held, available light in a warehouse (so it's those dreadfully dim mercury-halide lights 30 ft. above)

Overall, if you are in the market for a compact camera that will easily serve as a backup, or in some cases a replacement, for your larger DSLR when you don’t feel like lugging it around, I think the camera has finally been made that will fill the bill. It’s been a long time coming, but it’s nice to know we’re there finally. Of course, things will get smaller and have more megapixels and more this and that, but I really feel like the time has arrived when a digital camera can actually be something you buy without watching the horizon or suffering buyer’s remorse in three months. Learn more For those of you who want a more exhaustive review (as opposed to my more colloquial style) this is a good and in-depth review. It was the larger part of the basis behind my decision to buy the LX3. The site also lets you do a comparison against the G10, among others. Really, this review will tell you all you need to know. Additional note (buyer beware) Don't pay more than US$399.99 (maybe $425 for the black version) for this camera. For the last two months (as of Feb. '09) there has been some sort of weird availability issue going on, where the black model is essentially sold out everywhere or seling for one-two hundred dollars more than it should be (I'm looking at you, Amazon), and the silver model is in short supply and also heavily marked up. Wait it out, it's worth it and your wallet will thank you.

2 Comments

  1. Simona
    02/28/2009

    Great review, Tony!

    Looking forward to seeing some photos from both of you 🙂

  2. 03/04/2009

    I actually have the Lumix camera, and have been really happy with it. I got it at a good price and although I am not really an avid photographer I think it works really well and takes great pictures. Glad you are happy with your new camera and I can’t wait to see your photos!

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